D. D. Sheehan, Ireland Since Parnell (1921)

Chapters X-XIII

X
XI
XII
XIII
Land Purchase and a Determined Campaign to Kill It
The Movement for Devolution and Its Defeat
The Later Irish Party - Its Character and Composition
A Tale of Bad Leadership and Bad Faith

 

Chapter X: Land Purchase and a Determined Campaign to Kill It
I can only rapidly sketch the events that followed the publication of the Land Conference Report. Mr Sexton made it his business in The Freeman’s Journal to decry its findings on the sinister ground that they offered too much to the landlords and were not sufficiently favourable to the tenants, sneering at the proposal for a bonus, hinting that no Government would find money for this purpose. Mr Davitt, who was an earnest disciple of Henry George’s ideal of Land Nationalisation, naturally enough found nothing to like in the proposals for land purchase, which would set up a race of peasant-proprietors who would never consent to surrender their ownership to the State and would consequently make the application of the principles of Land Nationalisation for ever impossible in Ireland. Besides, Michael Davitt had cause for personal hatred of landlordism, which exiled his parents after eviction, and incidentally meant the loss of an arm to himself, and a violence of language which would be excusable in him would not be justifiable or allowable in the cases of men who had not suffered similarly, such as Messrs Dillon and Sexton. Yet the fault was not theirs if the Land Conference did not end in wreckage and such a glorious chance of national reconciliation and appeasement was not lost to Ireland.

In the meantime Sir Antony MacDonnell, greatly daring and, I would likewise say, greatly patriotic, accepted the offer of the Irish Under-Secretaryship in a spirit of self-abnegation beyond praise. Mr Redmond and Mr O’Brien had, at his request, met him, early in February, 1903, to discuss the provisions of the contemplated Purchase Bill. It may be remarked that Messrs Dillon and Davitt were invited to meet Sir Antony on the same occasion, but they declined. They apparently desired the position of greater freedom and less responsibility, from which they could deliver their attacks upon their friends. They received little support from the country in their guerrilla warfare on the Land Conference findings. The Standing Committee of the Catholic Hierarchy left no room for doubt as to their views. They declared the holding of the Land Conference “to be an event of the best augury for the future welfare of both classes” (landlords and tenants), and they expressed the hope that its unanimity would result in legislation which would settle the Land Question once for all “and give the Irish people of every class a fair opportunity to live and serve their native land.” The Irish Party and the National Directory of the United Irish League, the two bodies invested with sovereign authority to declare the national policy, unanimously, at specially convened meetings, approved the findings of the Land Conference and accepted them as the basis of a satisfactory settlement of the Land Question. Neither Mr Dillon nor Mr Davitt attended either of these meetings. Indeed, Mr Dillon ostentatiously took his departure from Dublin on the morning the meetings were held, but strangely enough he attended an adjourned meeting of the Party at Westminster the following day and opposed a proposal to raise the question of the Land Conference Report on the Address. Mr Redmond entered a dignified protest against Mr Dillon’s conduct, pointing out that the previous day was Mr Dillon’s proper opportunity for submitting any objections of his to his colleagues of the Party and of the National Directory. Mr Dillon did not find a single supporter for his attitude, and he was obliged to disclaim, with some heat, that he had any grievance in reference to the Conference. Next day he went abroad for the benefit of his health.

The debate on the Amendment to the Address had the most gratifying results. Mr Wyndham accepted, in principle, the Land Conference Agreement and announced that the Government would smooth the operations of Land Purchase by a bonus of twelve millions sterling as a free grant to Ireland. The debate accomplished another striking success, that it elicited from all the men of light and leading in the Liberal Party - from Mr Morley, Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, Sir E. Grey, Mr Haldane and Mr John Burns - expressions of cordial adhesion to the policy of pacification outlined by the Chief Secretary, thus effecting the obliteration of all English Party distinctions for the first time where one of Ireland’s supreme interests was concerned. It required only the continuance of this spirit to give certain assurance of Ireland’s early deliverance from all her woes and troubles. But an adverse fate, in the form of certain perverse politicians, ordained it otherwise.

On 25th March 1903 Mr Wyndham introduced his Bill. It adopted fully the fundamental principles of the Land Conference and undertook to find Imperial funds for the complete extinction of landlordism in Ireland within a period which Mr Wyndham estimated at fifteen years. Furthermore the tenants were to obtain the loans on cheaper terms than had ever been known before - viz. an interest of 2-3/4 per cent. and a sinking fund of 1/2 per cent., being a reduction in the tenants’ annuity from £4 to £3, 5s. as compared with the best of the previous Acts. In addition a State grant-in-aid to the extent of £12,000,000 - roughly equivalent to three years’ purchase - was produced to bridge the gap between what the tenants could afford to pay and the landlords to accept. The Bill fell short of the requirements of the Land Conference in certain respects, notably in that it proposed to withhold one-eighth of the freehold from the tenants as an assertion of State right in the land, and that the clauses dealing with the Evicted Tenants and Congested questions were vague and inadequate. Other minor defects there also were, but nothing that might not be remedied in Committee by conciliatory adjustments. A National Convention was summoned for 16th April to consider whether the Bill should be accepted or otherwise. Previously there was much subterranean communication between Messrs Dillon, Davitt, Sexton and T.P. O’Connor, all with calculated intent to damage or destroy the Bill. And it is also clear that certain members of the Irish Party (Messrs Dillon and T. P. O’Connor), who were pledge-bound to support majority rule “in or out of Parliament,” were carrying on official negotiations of their own with the Minister in charge of the Bill and were using the organ of the Party to discredit principles and proposals to which the Party had given its unanimous assent. It would not, in the circumstances, be unjust to stigmatise this conduct as disloyalty, if not exactly treachery, to the recorded decisions of the Party. At any rate it was the source and origin of incredible mischief and the most deplorable consequences to Ireland. The opponents of the Bill made a concerted effort to stampede the National Convention from arriving at any decision regarding the Bill. They wanted it to postpone judgment. But the Convention, in every sense magnificently representative of all that was sound and sincere in the constitutional movement, was too much alive to all the glorious possibilities of the policy of national reconciliation which was taking shape and form before their eyes to brook any of the ill-advised counsels of those who had determined insidiously on the wreck of this policy.

In all the great Convention there were only two voices raised in support of the rejection of the Bill. And when Mr Davitt moved the motion, concerted between Mr T. P. O’Connor, Mr Sexton and himself, that the Convention should suspend judgment until it was brought in its amended Third Reading Form before an adjourned sitting of the Convention, he was so impressed by the enthusiastic unanimity of the delegates that he offered, after some parley, to withdraw his motion, and thus this great and authoritative assembly pledged the faith of the Irish nation to the policy of national reconciliation and gave its loyal adhesion to the authors of that policy.

But this decision of the people, constitutionally and legitimately expressed, was not long to remain unchallenged. Immediately after the Convention Mr Davitt waited upon Mr Redmond, at the Gresham Hotel, Dublin, and blandly told him: “I have had a wire from Dillon to-day from the Piraeus, to say he is starting by the first boat for home and from this day forth O’Brien and yourself will have Dillon, T.P. and myself on your track.” Thus was set on foot what, with engaging candour, Mr Davitt himself later described in an article he contributed to The Independent Review as “a determined campaign” against the national policy which had been authoritatively endorsed and approved by every organisation in the country entitled to speak on the subject. The country has had to pay much in misery, in the postponement of its most cherished hopes and in the holding up of land purchase over great areas owing to the folly, the madness and the treachery of this “determined campaign.” Mr Dillon, at a later stage, with a certain Machiavellian cunning, raised the cry of “Unity” from every platform in the country against those who had never acted a disloyal part in all their lives, whilst his own political conscience never seemed to trouble him when he was flagrantly and foully defying that very principle of unity which he had pledged himself to maintain and uphold “in or out of Parliament.”

The National Convention was followed by an event which might easily have been made a turning point in Ireland’s good fortune had it been properly availed of. Lord Dunraven and his landlord Conciliation Committee met the day after the Land Convention and resolved to support sixteen out of the seventeen Nationalist amendments. They furthermore sent a message to Mr Redmond offering to co-operate actively with the members of the Irish Party throughout the Committee stage of the Wyndham Bill. Every consideration of national policy and prudence would seem to urge the acceptance of this generous offer. It would, if accepted, be the outward and visible sign of that new spirit of grace that had entered into Irish relations with the foregathering of the Land Conference. But fear of what Mr Dillon and the Freeman might do if this open association with a landlord - even if a friendly landlord - interest took place apparently operated on Mr Redmond’s judgment. Although urged by Mr O’Brien, who made the utmost allowance for the leader’s difficulties, to accept the offer of Lord Dunraven and his friends for continued co-operation, Mr Redmond temporised, and the opportunity passed into the limbo of golden possibilities gone wrong.

When Mr Dillon, in pursuance of his wire to Mr Davitt, returned from his holiday, he proceeded to make good the threat to be “on the track of Redmond and O’Brien.” He made himself as troublesome as he could during the Committee stage of the Bill and did his utmost to force its rejection. He sought to commit the Party to a policy which must have meant the defeat or withdrawal of the measure. He made vicious personal attacks upon Lord Dunraven. He did everything in his power to delay and frustrate the passage of the Bill in Committee. And the most generous construction that can be placed upon his actions is that he did all this in support of the theory, which he is known to have consistently held, that Home Rule should precede the settlement of the Land Question, or any other Irish question. Notwithstanding Mr Dillon’s criticisms, not then well understood either in the Party or the country, the Bill at length emerged triumphantly from its ordeal, with the good will of all parties in Parliament. It should have created - and it would, if it had only been given a fair chance - a new heaven and a new earth in Ireland. As far as could be prognosticated all the omens were favourable. Even the atmosphere of administration, so important a matter where any Irish Act is concerned, was of the most auspicious kind. The Lord-Lieutenant was Lord Dudley, who was immensely popular in Ireland, and who had made public proclamation of his desire that “Ireland should be governed in accordance with Irish ideas.” Two out of the three Estates Commissioners, in whose hands the actual administration of the Act lay, were men of whose absolute impartiality the Nationalist opinion of the country was assured. Sir Antony MacDonnell was the power in Dublin Castle, and not much likely to be intimidated by the permanent gang there. All that was required was that the Irish Party and the United Irish League should agree upon a broad-based policy for combining the various classes affected to extract the best possible advantage from the provisions of the Act. A meeting of the National Directory was summoned to formulate such a policy, but shortly before it was held Mr Dillon went down to Swinford and, from the board-room of the workhouse there, definitely raised the standard of revolt against the new Land Act. Nothing could be said against his action if he had come out from the Party and fulminated against its authority, but to remain a member of the Party and then to indict its conduct of the nation’s business was, to put it mildly, indefensible. He denounced the new spirit of conciliation that had been so fast gaining ground, attacked the landlords, who had proved themselves friendly to a settlement, in rather ferocious language, and spoke in violent terms of those who would “in a moment of weakness mortgage the future of Ireland to an intolerable extent.” Clearly Mr Dillon intended carrying out his threat of “taking the field” against Mr Redmond and Mr O’Brien and of damning the consequences. But the country was not yet “rattled” into disaffection by Mr Dillon’s melancholy vaticinations and rather vulgar appeals to the baser passions of greed and covetousness which are perhaps more firmly rooted in the peasant than in any other class.

The National Directory, unintimidated by Mr Dillon’s pronouncement, met and calmly proceeded to formulate plans for the better working of the Purchase Act. A clear and definite plan of campaign was outlined for the testing of the Act. Mr O’Brien was also in favour of handling the disaffection of Mr Dillon and the Freeman in straightforward manner and of pointing out to them their duty of loyally supporting the decisions of the Party and of the League. Mr Redmond shrank from decisive action. It was part of the weakness of his estimable character that he always favoured “the easier way.” He thought that when the Directory spoke out the recalcitrant elements would subside. Little did he understand the malignant temper of the powerful group who, with the aid of the supposedly national organ, were determined to kill the operations of the Purchase Act and to destroy the policy of Conciliation which had promised such splendid fruit in other directions. Mr Dillon went to Swinford again and he and his associates did everything in their power to stir up a national panic and to spread the impression that the Purchase Act was a public calamity, “a landlord swindle,” and that it would lead straight to national bankruptcy.

Even yet those who sought the wreck and ruin of land purchase might be met with and fought outright if the announcement had not appeared in the Freeman that Mr Redmond had sold his Wexford estate at “24-1/2 years’ purchase,” or over two years’ purchase higher in the case of second-term rents and four and a half years’ purchase in the case of first-term rents than the prices which the National Directory had a few weeks previously resolved to fight for, with all the force of the tenants’ organisation as a fair standard. True enough Mr Redmond was able to plead later that these were not the terms finally agreed upon between his tenants and himself, and beyond all question he made no profit out of the transaction. Where the mischief lay was in the original publication, which gave a headline to the landlords all over the country and, what was far more regrettable from the purely national standpoint, irretrievably tied the hands of Mr Redmond so far as making any heroic stand against Mr Dillon and his fellow-conspirators was concerned. Thus the country drifted along, bereft of firm leadership or strong guidance. Mr O’Brien had to hold his hand whilst “the determined campaigners” were more boldly and defiantly inveighing against the declared and adopted national policy and trampling upon every principle of Party discipline and loyalty. The situation might have been saved if Mr Redmond had taken his courage in both his hands, summoned the Party together and received from it an authoritative declaration defining anew the National policy and the danger that attended it from those who had set out recklessly to destroy it; or if he sought an opportunity for publicly recalling the country to its duty and its allegiance to himself and to the Party whose chosen leader he was. Mr Redmond was fully alive to the danger, but he hesitated about taking that bold action which could alone bring the recalcitrants to heel. He was afraid of doing anything which might provoke a fresh “split.” Later he delivered himself of the unstatesmanlike and unworthy apophthegm: “Better be united in support of a short-sighted and foolish policy than divided in support of a far-sighted and wise one.” This was the fatuous attitude which led him down the steep declivity that ended so tragically for him and his reputation. In those fateful days, when so much was in the balance for the future of Ireland, Mr O’Brien pressed his views earnestly upon Mr Redmond that unless he exercised his authority, and that of the Party and the Directory, it would be impossible for them to persevere in their existing programme, and that the only alternative left for him would be to retire and leave those who had opposed the policy of Conciliation a free stage for any more heroic projects they might contemplate. Mr Redmond still remained indecisive and Mr O’Brien - whether wisely or unwisely will always remain a debatable point with his friends - quietly quitted the stage, resigning his seat in Parliament, withdrawing from the Directory of the United Irish League, and ceasing publication of his weekly newspaper on the ground, as he says himself, that “the authorised national policy having been made unworkable, nothing remained, in order to save the country from dissension, except to leave its wreckers an absolutely free field for any alternative policy of their own.”

It is no exaggeration to say that the country was thrown into a state of stupefaction by Mr O’Brien’s retirement. It did not know the reason of it. Very few members of the Party did. I was then a member of it - perhaps a little on the outer fringe, but still an ordinarily intelligent member - and I was not aware of the underground factors and forces which had caused this thunderbolt out of the blue, as it were. Needless to say, the country was in a state of more abysmal ignorance still, and it is questionable whether outside of Munster, owing to a scandalous Press boycott of Mr O’Brien’s speeches for many years afterwards, the masses of the people ever had an understanding of the motives which impelled him “to stand down and out” when he was undoubtedly supreme in the Party and in the United Irish League and when he might easily have overborne “the determined campaigners” if he had only knit the issue with them in a fair and square fight. This, however, was the thing of all others he wished to avoid. Perhaps if he could have foreseen how barren in any alternative policy his sapient critics were to be he might have acted otherwise, but the credit is due to him of making dissension impossible by leaving no second party to the quarrel.

Speaking at Limerick a few days after his retirement, Mr Redmond avowed that Mr O’Brien’s principles were his own, and added these memorable words: “But for Mr William O’Brien there would have been no Land Conference and no Land Act.” Every effort was made to induce Mr O’Brien to withdraw his resignation. A delegation of the leading citizens of Cork travelled all the way to Mayo to entreat him to reconsider his decision. To them he said: “There is not the smallest danger of any split either in the Party, or in the League, or in the country. There will be a perfectly free field for the development of any alternative policy; and I will not use my retirement in any way whatever to criticise or obstruct; neither, I am certain, will anybody in the country who has any regard for my wishes.”

But having got all they wanted, “the determined campaigners” mysteriously abandoned their determined campaign. Mr Dillon’s health again required that he should bask ‘neath the sunny southern skies of Italy, whilst Mr Davitt betook himself to the United States, without either of them making a single speech or publishing a single suggestion to the tenants how they were to guard themselves against the “inflated prices” and the national insolvency they had been threatening them with. Having destroyed the plans of the National Directory for testing the Purchase Act they had no guidance of their own to offer. The tenants were left leaderless, to make their own bargains as best they could, with the inevitable result that the landlords, thanks to “the determined campaigners,” were able to force up prices two years above the standard which the Directory of the League had decided to stand out and fight for.

It used to be said of Daniel O’Connell that whenever The Times praised him he subjected himself to an examination of conscience to find out wherein he had offended as against Ireland. Likewise one would have supposed that when Mr Dillon found himself patted on the back by the extreme Orange gang he might have asked himself: “Wherein am I wrong to have earned the plaudits of these people?” For if Mr Dillon was rabid in his opposition to the policy of Conciliation the Ulster Orangemen were ferocious in their denunciation of it, Mr Moore, K.C., referred to it as “the cowardly, rotten, and sickening policy of Conciliation.” Small wonder that the Orange extremists should have dreaded this policy, since it had already been the means of creating in the North an Independent Orange Order, who unhesitatingly declared as the first article of their creed that they were “Irishmen first of all,” and who had an honest and enthusiastic spokesman in the House of Commons in the person of Mr Thomas Sloane, and an able and, indeed, a brilliant leader in Ireland in Mr Lindsay Crawford. But so it was - every advance towards national reconciliation and mutual understanding was opposed by those two divergent forces as if they had a common interest in defeating it.

Mr O’Brien having retired from Cork, the vacancy should, in the ordinary course, have been filled in the course of a few weeks. But the Nationalists of “the City by the Lee” made it clear that they wanted no other representative than Mr O’Brien, and they forbade the issue of a writ for a new election. And so there was the extraordinary spectacle of a people who voluntarily disfranchised themselves rather than give up the last hope of a policy of National Conciliation in which they descried a Home Rule settlement by Consent as surely as the abolition of landlordism already decreed. As an example of loyalty and personal devotion, as well as of patriotic foresight, it would be difficult to parallel it. Towards the close of the session of 1904 Mr Jasper Tully, a more or less free lance member of the Party, took it upon himself to play them the trick of moving the writ for a new election. And the Nationalists of Cork knew their own business so well that, without a line of communication with Mr O’Brien, they had him nominated and re-elected without anybody dreaming that anything else was humanly possible. There were no conditions attaching to Mr O’Brien’s re-election. He was free to rejoin the Irish Party if it should resume its position of twelve months ago or to remain out of it if a policy of mere destruction were persisted in. He was re-elected because the people of Cork had the most absolute confidence in his integrity, good faith and political judgment, and because they were convinced that his return to public life represented the only hope of the resumption of the great policy in which their confidence never for a moment wavered.

Within a week of Mr O’Brien’s re-election an event took place which once again made it possible for him to take up the threads of his policy where he had surrendered them. The landlords’ Conference Committee, to the number of three hundred of the leading Irish nobles and country gentlemen, met in Dublin and resolved themselves into a new Association, under Lord Dunraven’s leadership, which was named the Irish Reform Association. It immediately issued a manifesto proclaiming “a policy of conciliation, of good will and of reform,” by means of “a union of all moderate and progressive opinion irrespective of creed or class animosities,” with the object of “the devolution to Ireland of a large measure of self-government” without disturbing the Parliamentary Union between Great Britain and Ireland.

Within three days of the publication of the manifesto Mr Redmond, who was on a mission to the States pleading for Irish-American support, cabled: “The announcement [of the Irish Reform Association] is of the utmost importance. It is simply a declaration for Home Rule and is quite a wonderful thing. With these men with us Home Rule may come at any moment.” It is known that the idea of the Irish Reform Association had been talked over between Mr Wyndham, Lord Dunraven and Sir Antony MacDonnell, but it is probable that it would never have emerged into the concrete if the Cork election had not opened up the prospect of a fair and sympathetic national hearing for a project of self-government, now advocated for the first time by a body of Unionist Irishmen. Mr Redmond’s fervid message from America also was as plain a welcome to the new movement for genuine national unity as words could express. But “the fly was in the ointment nevertheless.”

 

Chapter XI: The Movement for Devolution and Its Defeat
The vital declaration of the objects of the Irish Reform Association was contained in the following passage:

“While firmly maintaining that the Parliamentary Union between Great Britain and Ireland is essential to the political stability of the Empire and to the prosperity of the two islands, we believe that such a Union is compatible with the devolution to Ireland of a larger measure of self-government than she now possesses. We consider that this devolution, while avoiding matters of Imperial concern and subjects of common interest to the kingdom as a whole, would be beneficial to Ireland and would relieve the Imperial Parliament of a mass of business with which it cannot now deal satisfactorily. In particular we consider the present system of financial administration to be wasteful and inappropriate to the needs of the country.”

And then the manifesto proceeded to enumerate various questions of national reform “for whose solution we earnestly invite the co-operation of all Irishmen who have the highest interests of their country at heart.”

The enemies of Home Rule had no misconceptions either as to the purpose, scope or object of the Reform Association. They saw at once how absolutely it menaced their position - how completely it embodied in substance the main principle of the constitutional movement since the days of Parnell - namely, the control of purely Irish affairs by an Irish assembly subject to the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. From debates which followed in the House of Lords (17th February 1905) it became clear that the new movement had no sinister origin - that it was honestly conceived and honestly intended for Ireland’s national advantage. But the Irish, whether of North or South, are a people to whom suspiciousness in politics is a sort of second nature. It is the inheritance of centuries of betrayals, treacheries and duplicities - broken treaties, crude diplomacies and shattered faiths. And thus we had a Unionist Attorney-General (now Lord Atkinson) asking “whether the Devolution scheme is not the price secretly arranged to be paid for Nationalist acquiescence in the settlement of the Land Question on gracious terms”; and The Times declaring (1st September 1904): “What the Dunraven Devolution policy amounts to is nothing more nor less than the revival in a slightly weakened and thinly disguised form of Mr Gladstone’s fatal enterprise of 1886”; whilst on the other hand those Irish Nationalists who followed Mr Dillon’s lead attacked the new movement with a ferocity that was as stupid as it was criminal. For at least it did not require any unusual degree of political intelligence to postulate that if The Times, Sir Edward Carson, The Northern Whig and other Unionist and Orange bravoes and journals were denouncing the Devolution proposals as “worse than Home Rule,” Irish Nationalists should have long hesitated before they joined them in their campaign of destruction and became the abject tools of their insensate hate. Sir Edward Carson wrote that, much as he detested the former proposals of Home Rule, he preferred them to “the insidious scheme put forward by the so-called Reform Association.” So incorrigibly foolish were the attacks of Mr Dillon and his friends on the Reform Association that Lord Rathmore was able to say in the House of Lords: “Not only did the Unionist Party in Ireland denounce the Dunraven scheme as worse than the Home Rule of Mr Gladstone, but their language was mild in comparison to the language of contempt which a great many of the Irish Nationalist patriots showered upon the proposals of the noble earl.”

It is the mournful tragedy of all this period that a certain section of Nationalist opinion should have seen in every advance towards a policy of conciliation, good will and understanding between brother Irishmen, some deep and sinister conspiracy against the National Cause, and in this unaccountable belief should have allowed themselves to become the dupes and to play the game of the bitterest enemies of Irish freedom. But so it was, to the bitter sorrow of Ireland; and many a blood-stained chapter has been written because of it. Whether a fatal blindness or an insatiate personal rancour dictated this incomprehensible policy Providence alone knows, but oceans of woe, and misery and malediction have flowed from it as surely as that the sun is in the heavens.

After Mr O’Brien’s retirement, as I have already remarked, the country was left without a policy or active national guidance. The leaders of the revolt against the authorised policy of the nation went abroad “for the benefit of their health.” (What a lot of humbug this particular phrase covers in political affairs only the initiated are aware of!) No sooner was the Cork election announced than Mr Dillon returned from his holiday, ready “to take the field” against the Irish Reform Association and anyone who dared to show it toleration or regard. He declared in a speech at Sligo that its one object was “to break national unity in Ireland and to block the advance of the Nationalist Cause,” and he went on to deliver this definite threat: “Now I say that any attempt such as was made the other day in the city of Cork to force on the branches of the national organisation, or on the National Directory itself, any vote of confidence in Lord Dunraven or any declaration of satisfaction at the foundation of this Association would tear the ranks of the Nationalists of Ireland to pieces.”

Note Mr Dillon’s extreme zeal for national unity - the man who, less than twelve months before, had set himself at the head of “a determined campaign to defy the decisions of the Irish Party, the National Directory and the United Irish League,” and who did not in the least scruple whether or not he “would tear the ranks of the Nationalists of Ireland to pieces” in the gratification of his purpose! The “attempt made in the city of Cork” which called forth Mr Dillon’s thunders was a resolution of the Cork branch of the United Irish League which hailed with sympathy the establishment of the Irish Reform Association as proof of the continuance of the spirit of conciliation “among those classes of our countrymen who have hitherto held aloof from us” - a spirit which had already led to such happy results in the abolition of landlordism “by common consent,” and which was capable of “still wider and more blessed results in the direction of a National Parliament of our own.” The resolution also expressed gratification “at the statesmanlike spirit in which Mr Redmond has greeted the establishment of the new Association.” It will be observed that there was here a clear line of demarcation. Mr O’Brien and his friends wanted, in moderate and guarded language, without in any way binding themselves “to the particular views set forth in the programme of the Irish Reform Association,” to give a message of encouragement to a body of Irish Unionists, who, as Sir Edward Carson, The Times and every other enemy of Home Rule declared, had become converts to the National demand for self-government and who looked likely to bring the bulk of the Protestant minority in Ireland with them. Mr Dillon and those who thought with him savagely repelled this movement towards a national unity which would embrace all classes and creeds to the forgetfulness of past wrongs, animosities and deep divisions. It seemed to have got into their minds that the appearance of the Irish Reform Association covered some occult plot between Lord Dunraven, Mr Wyndham, Sir Antony MacDonnell and Mr O’Brien. Mr Davitt declared that “No party or leader can consent to accept the Dunraven substitute without betraying a national trust.” Others of lesser note denounced the new movement and its authors with every circumstance of insult and used language of a coarseness that deserves the severest condemnation.

Mr Joseph Devlin, who had succeeded Mr John O’Donnell as Secretary of the United Irish League, now began to be a rather considerable figure in Irish politics on the Dillonite side. He told his constituents in North Kilkenny that they were not going to seek “the co-operation of a few aristocratic nobodies,” and he, quite unjustly, as I conceive, attributed to Lord Dunraven and his friends a desire to weaken the national demand.

During this time the Government had given no sign that the Devolution movement might not find favour in their sight. Had its main objects met with a more cordial reception from the arbiters of the national policy it is more than probable that the Unionist Government would have stood sponsor for a large and generous instalment of self-government which would have received the joyous assent of the Liberal Party and passed through both Houses of Parliament with the acclamations of everybody. In his first speech at Cork after his election Mr O’Brien sought to rouse the country to a real perception of the momentous issues that were at stake. He pointed out that the proposals of the Reform Association were only “mere preliminary materials for discussion and negotiation and that they are rather addressed towards the removal of the prejudices of Unionists than put forward as a final and unalterable answer to our national demand.” And then he went on to say: “Lord Dunraven and his friends may be all that is diabolical, but at least they are not such born idiots as to expect us to surrender our own organisation, or, as it has been absurdly put, to coalesce with the new Association on such a programme.” As a matter of fact, Lord Dunraven had, in the most outspoken manner, stated that he expected nothing from the Nationalists except friendly toleration and fair play, whilst he and those associated with him were engaged in the hard task of conquering the mass of racial prejudice and sectarian bigotry that had been for so long arrayed against the National claim.

The efforts to induce in the intransigeant section of the Party a spirit of sweet reasonableness were, however, foredoomed to failure. Mr Dillon declined to address a meeting at Limerick, specially summoned to establish a concordat between the Irish leaders. Mr Redmond and Mr O’Brien accepted the invitation, and the former made it clear that he still regarded the Land Conference policy as the policy of the nation. He said: “It has been stated in some newspapers of our enemies that the Land Conference agreement, which was endorsed by the Irish Party, endorsed by the Directory of the League and endorsed by the National Convention and accepted by the people, has been in some way repudiated recently by us. I deny that altogether.... I speak to-day only for the people and, so far as the people are concerned, I say that the agreement, from the day it was entered upon down to this moment, has never been repudiated by anybody entitled to speak in their name.”

Had the spirit of the Limerick meeting and the unity which it symbolised been allowed to prevail, all might yet have been well and the national platform might have been broadened out so that all men of good will who wished to labour for an independent and self-governed Ireland could stand upon it. But such a consummation was not to be. There was no arguing away the hostility of Mr Dillon, The Freeman’s Journal and those others upon whom they imposed their will. Mr Dillon could give no better proof of statesmanship or generous sentiment than to refer to “Dunraven and his crowd” and to declare that “Conciliation, so far as the landlords are concerned, was another name for swindling.”

From the moment Mr Wyndham had placed his Purchase Act on the Statute Book, with the assent of all parties in England and Ireland, his hopes were undoubtedly set on the larger and nobler ambition of linking his name with the grant of a generous measure of self-government. The blood of a great Irish patriot, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, coursed through his veins, and it is not impossible that it influenced his Irish outlook and stimulated his purpose to write his name largely on Irish affairs. And at this time nothing was beyond his capacity or power. He was easily the most notable figure in the Cabinet, by reason of the towering success that had attended his effort to remove from the arena of perennial contention a problem that had daunted and defeated so many previous attempts at solution. In all quarters the most glorious future was prophesied for him. His star shone most brightly in the political firmament - and there were many in high places who were quite willing to hitch their wagon to it. He was immensely popular in the House and he had captured the public imagination by his many gifts and graces of intellect and character. He had an exquisite personality, a wonderful charm of manner, a most handsome and distinguished presence and was a perfect courtier in an age which knew his kind not at all. His like was not in Parliament, nor, indeed, can I conceive his like to be elsewhere in these rougher days, when the ancient courtesies seem to have vanished from our public life. There can be no doubt about it that in his first tentative approaches towards Home Rule Mr Wyndham received encouragement from leading members of the Cabinet, including Lord Lansdowne and Mr Balfour. Sir Antony MacDonnell had been the welcome guest of Lord Lansdowne at his summer seat in Ireland, and the latter made no secret of the fact that their conversation turned upon the larger question of Irish self-government. When Lord Dunraven was attacked in the House of Lords for his Devolution plans Lord Lansdowne “declined to follow Lord Rathmore in the trenchant vituperation Lord Dunraven’s scheme had encountered,” and he admitted that Sir Antony MacDonnell had been in the habit of conferring with Lord Dunraven on many occasions, with the full knowledge and approval of the Chief Secretary, and had collaborated with him “in working out proposals for an improved scheme of local government for Ireland.”

The Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Dudley, made open avowal of his sympathies and stated repeatedly that it was his earnest wish to see Ireland governed in accordance with Irish ideas.

It was in this friendly atmosphere that the Irish Reform Association propounded its scheme of Devolution which Mr T.P. O’Connor (before he came under the influence of Mr Dillon) happily described as “the Latin for Home Rule,” and which Mr Redmond welcomed in the glowing terms already quoted. The Convention of the United Irish League of America, representing the best Irish elements in the United States, also proclaimed the landlord concession as embodied in the Irish Reform Association to be “a victory unparalleled in the whole history of moral warfare.” Here was an opportunity such as Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, Thomas Davis and the other honoured patriots of Ireland’s love sighed for in vain, when, with the display of a generous and forgiving spirit on all sides, the best men of every creed and class could have been gathered together in support of an invincible demand for the restoration of Irish liberty. I do not know how any intelligent and impartial student of the events of that historical cycle can fail to visit the blame for the miscarriage of a great occasion, and the defeat of the definite movement towards the widest national union upon Mr Dillon and those who joined him in his “determined” and tragically foolish campaign. As a humble participator in the activities of the period, I dare say it is not quite possible for me to divest myself of a certain bias, but I cannot help saying that I am confirmed in the opinion that in addition to being the most melancholy figure in his generation Mr John Dillon was also the most malignant in that at every stage of his career, when decisive action had to be taken his judgment invariably led him to take the course which brought most misfortune upon his country and upon the hopes of its people.

Attacked on front and flank, assailed by Sir Edward Carson and his gang and denounced by Mr Dillon and his faithful henchmen, deserted by Mr Balfour at the moment when his support was vital, Mr Wyndham weakly allowed himself to be badgered into disowning Home Rule, thus sealing his doom as a statesman and as potential leader of his own party. The secret history of this time when it is made public will disclose a pitiful story of base intrigue and baser desertion and of a great and chivalrous spirit stretched on the rack of Ireland’s ill-starred destiny. I do not think it is any exaggeration of the facts to say that Wyndham was done to death, physically as well as politically, in those evil days. Driven from office, with the ruin of all his high hopes in shattered disorder around him, his proud soul was never able to recover itself, and he drifted out of politics and into the greater void without - so fine a gentleman in such utter disarray that the angels must have wept his fall.

That Mr William O’Brien did not meet a similar fate was due only to the fact that he was made of sterner fighting stuff - that he possessed a more intrepid spirit and a more indomitable will. But the base weapons of calumny and of viler innuendo were employed to injure him in the eyes of his fellow-countrymen, to whom he had devoted, in a manner never surely equalled or surpassed before, a life of service and sacrifice. The Freeman’s Journal, whilst suppressing Mr O’Brien’s speeches and arguments, threw its columns open to ruffianly attacks which no paper knowing his record should have published. In one of these he was charged with “unnatural services to insatiable landlordism.” He was charged by Mr Dillon and the Freeman with being actively engaged with Mr Wyndham, Sir Antony MacDonnell and Lord Dunraven in a plot to break up the Irish Party, and to construct a new Moderate Centre Party by selling eighteen Nationalist seats in Parliament to Lord Dunraven and his friends, and he was further charged with being concerned in a conspiracy having for its object the denationalisation of the Freeman. There were six libels in all, of so gross a character that Mr O’Brien, since reports of his speeches were systematically suppressed in every newspaper outside of Munster, was obliged to take his libellers into court and, before a jury of their fellow-countrymen at Limerick, to convict them of uttering six false, malicious and defamatory libels, and thus bring to the public knowledge the guilt of his accusers. Asked what his “unnatural services to insatiable landlordism” were, Mr O’Brien made this memorable reply: “To abolish it! All the Irish tenants had gained by the land agitation of the previous twenty years was a reduction of twenty per cent. My unnatural services under the Land Conference Agreement was to give them a reduction of forty per cent. more right away and the ownership of the soil of Ireland thrown in.”

Lord Dunraven on his own part took Mr Dillon publicly to task for his misrepresentations of him. He said that Mr Dillon “mentioned him as being more or less connected with a great variety of conspiracies and plots and with general clandestine arrangements.... He and George Wyndham were said to have been constantly plotting for the purpose of driving a wedge into the midst of the Nationalist Party. Well, as far as he was concerned, all these deals and all these conspiracies existed only in Mr Dillon’s fervid imagination.” And Lord Dunraven went on to express his sorrow that a man in Mr Dillon’s position should have taken up so unworthy a line.

Mr Dillon, when he had the opportunity of appearing before the Limerick jury, to justify himself, if he could, never did so. And he never expressed regret for having defamed his former friend and colleague and for having vilified honourable men, honourably seeking Ireland’s welfare. Upon which I must content myself with saying that history will pass its own verdict on Mr Dillon’s conduct.

 

Chapter XII: The Later Irish Party - Its Character and Composition
To enable our readers to have a clearer understanding of all that has gone before and all that is to follow, I think it well at this stage to give a just impression of the Party, of its personnel, its method of working and its general character and composition.

The Irish Party, as we know it, was originally the creation of Parnell, and was, perhaps, his most signal achievement. It became, under the genius of his leadership, a mighty constitutional force - disciplined, united, efficient and vigilant. It had the merit of knowing its own mind. It kept aloof from British Party entanglements. It was pledged to sit, act and vote together, and its members loyally observed the pledge both in the spirit and the letter, and did not claim the right to place their own individual interpretation upon it. Furthermore, it was a cardinal article of honour that members of the Party were to seek no favours from British Ministers, because it needs no argument to demonstrate that the Member of Parliament who pleads for favours for himself or preferment for his friends can possess no individual independence. He is shackled in slavery to the Minister to whom his importunities are addressed. He is simply a patriot on the make, despised by himself and despised by those to whom he addresses his subservient appeals. There was no place for such a one in Parnell’s Irish Party, which embodied as nearly as possible that perfect political cohesion which is the dream of all great leaders. There were men of varying capacity and, no doubt, of differing thought in Parnell’s Party, but where Ireland’s national interests were concerned it was a united body, an undivided phalanx which faced the foe. And by the very boldness and directness of Parnell’s policy, he won to his side in the country, not only all the moral and constitutional forces making for Nationalism, but the revolutionary forces - who yearned for an Irish Republic - as well. He was, therefore, not only the leader of a Party; he was much more - he was the leader of a United Irish nation. His aim was eminently sane and practical - to obtain the largest possible measure of national autonomy, and he did not care very much what it was called. But he made it clear that whatever he might accept in his time and generation was not to be the last word on the Irish Question. He fought with the weapons that came to his hand - and he used them with incomparable skill and judgment - with popular agitation in Ireland, with “direct action” of a most forcible and audacious kind in Parliament. A great leader has always the capacity for attracting capable lieutenants to his side. We need only refer to the example of Napoleon as overwhelming proof of this. And so out of what would ordinarily seem humble and unpromising material Parnell brought to his banner a band of young colleagues who have since imperishably fixed their place in Irish history. I am not writing the life-story of the members of Parnell’s Party, but if I were it would be easy to show that most of the colleagues who have come to any measure of greatness since were men of no antecedent notoriety (I use the word in its better application), with possibly one exception, and it is somewhat remarkable that the son of John Blake Dillon, who owed perhaps not a little to the fact that he was his father’s son, should have been the one who first showed signs of recalcitrancy against Party rule and discipline when he inveighed against the Land Act of 1881 and betook himself abroad for three years during the time when the national movement was locked in bitterest conflict with the Spencer Coercionist regime. Let it be at once conceded that Parnell’s lieutenants were men whose gifts and talents would have in any circumstances carried them to eminent heights, but it might be said also they lost nothing from their early association with so great a personality and from the fact that he brought them into the gladiatorial arena, where their mental muscles were, so to speak, trained and tested and extended in combat with some of the finest minds of the age.

In the days when the later Irish Party had entered upon its decrepitude some of its leaders sought to maintain a sorry unity by shouting incessantly from the house-tops, as if it were some sacred formula which none but the unholy or those predestined to political damnation dare dispute: “Majority Rule.” And a country which they had reduced to the somnambulistic state by the constant reiteration of this phrase unfortunately submitted to their quackery, and have had grave reason to regret it ever since. Parnell had very little respect for shams - whether they were sham phrases or sham politicians. He was a member of Butt’s Home Rule Party but he was not to be intimidated from pursuing the course he had mapped out for himself by any foolish taunts about his “Policy of Exasperation”; he was a flagrant sinner against the principle of “majority rule,” but time has proved him to be a sinner who was very much in the right. Mr Dillon used to hurl another name of anathema at our heads - the heads of those of us who were associated with Mr O’Brien in his policy of national reconciliation - he used to dub us “Factionists.” It was not fair fighting, nor honest warfare, nor decent politics. It was the base weapon of a man who had no arguments of reason by which he could overwhelm an opponent, but who snatched a bludgeon from an armoury of certain evil associations which he knew would prevail where more legitimate methods could not.

I entered the Party in May 1901, having defeated their official candidate at a United Irish League Convention for the selection of a Parliamentary candidate for Mid-Cork on the death of Dr Tanner. In those days I was not much of a politician. My heart was with the neglected labourer and I stood, accordingly, as a Labour candidate, my programme being the social elevation of the masses, particularly in the vital matters of housing, employment and wages. I was not even a member of the United Irish League, being wholly concerned in building up the Irish Land and Labour Association, which was mainly an organisation for the benefit, protection and the education in social and citizen duty of the rural workers. Mr Joseph Devlin was sent down to the Convention to represent the Party and the League. It was sought to exclude a considerable number of properly accredited Labour delegates from the Convention, but after a stiff fight my friends and myself compelled the admission of a number just barely sufficient to secure me a majority. This was heralded as a tremendous triumph for the Labour movement, and it spoke something for the democratic constitution of the United Irish League, as drafted by Mr O’Brien, that it was possible for an outsider to beat its official nominee and thereby to become the officially adopted candidate of the League himself. In due course I entered the portals of the Irish Party, but though in it was, to a certain extent, not of it, in that I was more an observer of its proceedings than an active participant in its work. My supreme purpose in public life was to make existence tolerable for a class who had few to espouse their claims and who were in the deepest depths of poverty, distress and neglect. Hence, except where Labour questions and the general interests of my constituents were concerned, I stood more or less aloof from the active labours of the Party. I was in the position of a looker-on and a critic, and I saw many things that did not impress me at all too favourably.

In the years immediately following the General Election of 1900 the Party had a splendid solidarity and a fine enthusiasm. There had been just sufficient new blood infused into it to counteract the jealous humours and to minimise the weariness of spirit of those older members who had served in the halcyon days of Parnell and had gone through all the squalidness and impotence of the years of the Split. Had the Party been rightly handled, and led by a man of strong will and inflexible character, it could have been made the mightiest constitutional power for Ireland’s emancipation. Unfortunately Mr John Redmond was not a strong leader. He unquestionably possessed many of the attributes of leadership - a dignified presence, distinguished deportment, a wide knowledge of affairs, a magnificent mastery of the forms and rules of the House of Commons, a noble eloquence and a sincere manner, but he lacked the vital quality of strength of character and energetic resolve. He was not, as Parnell was, strong enough to impose his will on others if he found it easier to give way himself. And thus from the very outset of his career as leader of the reunited Party he allowed his conduct to be influenced by others - very often, let it be said, against his own better judgment. Mr Redmond had a matchless faculty for stating the case of Ireland in sonorous sentences, but too often he was content to take his marching orders from those powers behind the throne who were the real manipulators of what passed for an Irish policy. In the shaping of this policy and in the general ordering of affairs, the rank and file of the members had very little say - they were hopelessly invertebrate and pusillanimous. The majority of them were mere automatons - very honest, very patriotic, exceedingly respectable, good, ordinary, decent and fairly intelligent Irishmen, but as Parliamentarians their only utility consisted in their capacity to find their way into the voting Lobby as they were ordered. To their meek submission, and to their rather selfish fear of losing their seats if they asserted an independent opinion, I trace many if not all of the catastrophes and failures that overtook the Party in later years. Needless to say, neither the country nor the other parties in Parliament had the least understanding of the real character and composition of the Nationalist Party. It had always a dozen or more capable men who could dress the ranks and hold their own “on the floor of the House” as against the best intellects and debating power of either British party. Irish readiness and repartee made question time an overwhelmingly Irish divertissement. Our members had a unique faculty for bringing about spectacular scenes that read very well in the newspapers and made the people at home think what fine fellows they had representing them! All this might be very good business in its way if it had any special meaning, but I could never for the life of me see how taking the Sultanate of Morocco under our wing could by any stretch of the imagination help forward the cause of Ireland.

The policy of the Party, in the ultimate resort, was supposed to be controlled by the United Irish League acting through its branches in Convention assembled. Inasmuch as the Party derived whatever strength it possessed in Parliament from the virility and force of the agitation in Ireland, it was in the fitness of things that the country should have the right of ordering the tune. When he founded the United Irish League Mr O’Brien unquestionably intended that this should be the case - that the country should be the master of its own fate and that the constituencies should be in the position of exercising a wholesome check on the conduct of their Parliamentary representatives, who, in addition to the pledge to sit, act and vote with the Party, also entered into an equally binding undertaking to accept neither favour nor office from the Government. As the Party was for the greater part made up of poor men or men of moderate means, members received an indemnity from a special fund called “The Parliamentary Fund,” which was administered by three trustees. This fund was specially collected each year, and in principle, if the subscriptions came from Ireland alone, was an excellent method of making members of the Party obey the mandate of the people, under the penalty of forfeiting their allowance. But in practice, most of the subscriptions were collected in America, and we had in effect the extraordinary situation of Irish representatives being maintained in Parliament by the moneys of their American kith and kin. And the situation after 1903 was rendered the more ludicrous by reason of the fact that the Party could never have dragged along its existence if it had been dependent upon Irish contributions to its funds. These were largely withdrawn because the Party was delinquent in adhering to the policy of Conciliation. It is a phenomenon worth remarking that the Irish people never failed to contribute generously what Parnell had termed “the sinews of war” so long as the members of the Party deserved it of them. But when symptoms of demoralisation set in, or when contentions distracted their energies, the people cut off the supplies. This would undoubtedly have been an effective means of control in normal circumstances, but when the Party, of its own volition, was able to send “missions” to America and Australia to collect funds, it was no longer dependent on the popular will, as expressed in terms of material support, and it became the masters of the people instead of their servants.

Not that I want for one moment unnecessarily to disparage the personnel of the Party - it was probably the best that Ireland could have got in the circumstances - nor do I seek to diminish its undoubtedly great services to Ireland in the days of Parnell and during the period that it loyally adopted the policy of Conciliation. But what I do deplore is that a few men in the Party - not more than three or four all told - were able, by getting control of “the machine,” to destroy the fairest chance that Ireland ever had of gaining a large measure of self-government. Knowing all that happened within the Party in the years of which I am writing, knowing the methods that were employed, rather unscrupulously and with every circumstance of pettiness, to bear down any member who showed the least disposition to exercise legitimately an independent judgment - knowing how the paid organisers of the League were at once dispatched to his constituency to intrigue against him and to work up local enmities, I am not, and never was, surprised at the compelled submission of the body of the members to the decrees of the secret Cabinet who controlled policy and directed affairs with an absolute autocracy that few dared question. One member more courageous than his fellows, Mr Thomas O’Donnell, B.L., did come upon the platform with Mr Wm. O’Brien at Tralee, in his own constituency and had the manliness to declare in favour of the policy of Conciliation, but the tragic confession was wrung from him: “I know I shall suffer for it.” And he did!

I mention these matters to explain what would otherwise be inexplicable - how it came to pass that a policy solemnly ratified by the Party, by the Directory of the League, and by a National Convention was subsequently repudiated. Whilst Mr O’Brien remained in the Party there was no question of the allegiance of these men to correct principle. Mr Joseph Devlin, who later was far and away the most powerful man in the Party, had not yet “arrived.” (It was the retirement of Mr O’Brien from public life and the resignation of Mr John O’Donnell from the secretaryship of the United Irish League - under circumstances which Mr Devlin’s admirers will scarcely care to recall - which gave him his chance.) Mr Dillon was a more or less negligible figure until Mr O’Brien made way for him by his retirement. Right up to this there was only one man for the Party and the country, and that man was William O’Brien. Let me say at once that in those days I had no attachments and no personal predilections. John Redmond, William O’Brien and John Dillon were all, as we say in Ireland, “one and the same to me.” If anything, because of my Parnellite proclivities, I rather leaned to Mr Redmond’s side, and his chairmanship of the Party had certainly my most loyal adherence. Otherwise I was positively indifferent to personalities, and to a great extent also to policies, since I was in the Party for one purpose, and one alone, of pushing the labourers’ claims upon the notice of the leaders and of ventilating their grievances in the House of Commons whenever occasion offered. Furthermore, I do not think I ever spoke to Mr O’Brien until after the Cork election in 1904, when, convinced of the rectitude of his policy and principles, I stood upon his platform to give such humble support as I could to the cause he advocated, and thereafter, I am proud to say, never once turned aside, either in thought or action, from the thorny and difficult path I had chosen to travel. I take no credit to myself for having taken my stand on behalf of Mr O’Brien’s policy. I knew him in all essential things, both then and thereafter, to be absolutely in the right. I was aware that, had he so minded, in 1903, when he was easily the most powerful man in the Party and the most popular in Ireland, he could have smashed at one onslaught the conspiracy of “the determined campaigners” and driven its authors to a well-deserved doom. But the mistake he made then, as mistake I believe it to be, was that he left the field to those men, who had no alternative policy of their own to offer to the country, and who, instead of consolidating the national organisation for the assertion of Irish right, consolidated it rather in the interests of their own power and personal position. Thus it happened that a movement conceived and intended as the adequate expression of the people’s will became, in the course of a short twelve months, everywhere outside of Munster, a mere machine for registering the decrees of Mr Dillon and his co-conspirators.

I do not think, if Mr T.M. Healy had been a member of the Party then, that Mr Dillon would have been able so successfully to entrench himself in power as he did. Mr Healy knew Mr Dillon inside out and he had little respect for his qualities. He knew him to be vain, intractable, small-minded and abnormally ambitious of power. Parnell once said of him: “Dillon is as vain as a peacock and as jealous as a schoolgirl.” And when he was not included as a member of the Land Conference I am sure it does him no wrong to say that he made up his mind that somebody should suffer for the affront put upon him. It is ever thus. Even the greatest men are human, with human emotions, feelings, likes and dislikes. And though it is far from my intention to robe Mr Dillon in any garment of greatness, he was, unfortunately, put in a position to do irreparable mischief to great principles, as I conceive, through motives of petty spite. Even if Mr Dillon had stood alone I do not think he would have counted for very much, supported though he was by the suave personality of Mr T.P. O’Connor. But he had won to his side, in the person of Mr Devlin, one of great organising gifts and considerable eloquence, who had now obtained control of the United Irish League and all its machinery and who knew how to manipulate it as no other living person could. Without Mr Devlin’s uncanny genius for organisation Mr Dillon’s idiosyncrasies could have been easily combated. Mr Dillon’s diatribes against “the black-blooded Cromwellians” at a time when the best of the landlord class were steadily veering in the Nationalist direction, I could never understand. Mr Devlin’s detestation of the implacable spirit of Ulster Orangemen was a far more comprehensible feeling, but the years have shown only too thoroughly that both passions, and the pursuit of them, have had the most disastrous consequences.

Even when Mr Dillon was most powerful in the Party there were many men in it, to my knowledge, who secretly sympathised with the policy of Conciliation but who had not sufficient moral courage to come out in the open in support of it, knowing that if they did they would be marked down for destruction at the next General Election. It is evident that from a Party thus dominated and dragooned, and an organisation which had its resolutions manufactured for it in the League offices in Dublin, no good fruit could come.

Mr Redmond’s position was pitiful in the extreme. Neither his judgment nor his sense of statesmanship could approve the departure which Mr Dillon and his accomplices had initiated. He avowed again and again, publicly to the country and privately in the Party, that he was in entire agreement with Mr O’Brien up to the date of his resignation; and it is as morally certain as anything can be in this world that if he had not crippled his initiative by sanctioning, under his own hand, the announcement of the 24-1/2 years’ purchase terms for his estate, he would never have allowed himself to be associated with what he rather wearily and shamefacedly described as “a short-sighted and unwise policy.”

From the time that Mr Dillon and his friends got control of the Party and the national organisation the country was never allowed to exercise an independent judgment of its own, for the simple reason that the facts were carefully kept from its knowledge by a Press boycott unparalleled in the history of any other nation. Under this tyranny all independence and honest conviction were sapped. And with a brutal irony, which must compel a certain amazed admiration on the part of the disinterested inquirer after truth, the men who set the Party pledge at defiance, who set themselves to destroy Party unity and to scoff at majority rule, were the men who at a later date, when it suited their malevolent purpose, used the catch-cries of “Unity,” “Majority Rule” and “Factionists” with all their evil memories of the nine years of the Split to intimidate the people from listening to the arguments and reasonings of Mr O’Brien and his friends. And when their kept Press and their subservient Parliamentarians did not prevail, they did not hesitate to use hired revolver gangs and to employ paid emissaries to prevent the gospel of Conciliation from being preached to the people.

With the entrance of false principles and the employment of pernicious and demoralising influences the moral of the Party began to be at first vitiated and then utterly destroyed. It lost its independent character and cohesive force. To a certain extent it became a party of petty tale-bearers. The men most in favour with the secret Cabinet were the men who kept them informed of the sayings and doings of their fellows.

The members of lesser note simply dare not be seen speaking to anyone suspected of a friendly feeling to Mr O’Brien or his policy. Woe to them if they were! In the expressive phrase of Mr O’Donnell, they were “made to suffer for it.”

The proud independence and incorruptibility which the Party boasted in Parnell’s day of power now also began to give way. With the accession of the Liberal Party to office in 1906 the Nationalist members began to beseech favours. It may be it was only in the first instance that they sought J.P.-ships for their leading friends and supporters in their several constituencies. But we all know how the temptation of patronage grows: it is so fine a thing to be able to do “a good turn” for one’s friend or neighbour by merely inditing a letter to some condescending Minister. And now, particularly since there was no censure to be dreaded, it became one of the ordinary functions of the Nationalist M.P.’s life. It was no secret that prominent leaders were exercising a similar privilege, and the rank and file saw no reason why they should not imitate so seductive an example.

I once heard a keen student of personalities in Parliament observe that Mr Dillon and Mr T.P. O’Connor always appeared to him to be sounder and more sincere Liberals than they were Irish Nationalists. I agree, and no doubt much of Ireland’s later misfortunes sprang from this circumstance. I confess I have always thought of Mr Dillon, in my own mind, as an English Radical first and an Irish Nationalist afterwards. I believe he was temperamentally incapable of adopting Parnell’s position of independence of either British Party and of supporting only that Party which undertook to do most for Ireland. Then, again, Mr Dillon was more of an Internationalist than a Nationalist. He delighted in mixing himself up in foreign affairs, and I am much mistaken if he did not take more pride in being regarded as an authority on the Egyptian rather than on the Irish question. Mr T.P. O’Connor was so long out of Ireland, and had so completely lost touch with genuine Irish opinion that much might be forgiven to him. His ties with Liberalism were the outgrowth of years spent in connection with the Liberal Press of London and of social associations which had their natural and inevitable influence on his political actions.

With Messrs Dillon and O’Connor and - at this time, probably, in a more secondary sense - Mr Devlin, in control of the Party, it can be well understood how easy was the descent from an independence of all parties to an alliance with one. I believe that in all these things Mr Redmond’s judgment was overborne by his more resolute colleagues. I believe also, as I have already said, that the weakness of his position was engendered by the unforgettable mistake he made in regard to the sale of his estate - that he felt this was held over him as a sword of Damocles, and that he was never able to get away from its haunting shadow sufficiently to assert his own authority in the manner of an independent and resolute leader.

I am at pains to set forth these matters to justify the living and, in some measure, to absolve the dead. I want to place the responsibility for grievous failures and criminal blunders on the right shoulders. I seek to make it plain how the country was bamboozled and betrayed by Party machinations such as have not had their parallel in any other period of Irish history. I state nothing in malice or for any ulterior motive, since I have none. But I think it just and right that the chief events of the past twenty years should be set forth in their true character so that impartial inquirers may know to what causes can be traced the overwhelming tragedies of recent times.

 

Chapter XIII: A Tale of Bad Leadeship and Bad Faith
It became a habit of the Irish Party, in its more decadent days, to spout out long litanies of its achievements and to claim credit, as a sort of hereditament no doubt, for the reforms won under the leadership of Parnell. It was, when one comes to analyse it, a sorry method of appealing for public confidence - a sort of apology for present failures on the score of past successes. It was as if they said: “We may not be doing very well now, but think of what we did and trust us.” And the time actually arrived when “Trust us” was the leading watchword of Mr Redmond and his Party. How little they deserved that trust in regard to some important concerns I will proceed to explain. I have shown how they dished Devolution and drove Mr Wyndham from office when he was feeling his way towards the concession of Home Rule - or equivalent proposals under another name; and how they thus destroyed in their generation the last hope of a settlement by Consent of the Irish Question - although a settlement along these lines was what Gladstone most desired. Writing to Mr Balfour, so long ago as 20th December 1885, he thus expressed himself:

“On reflection I think what I said to you in our conversation at Eaton may have amounted to the conveyance of a hope that the Government would take a strong and early decision on the Irish Question. This being so, I wish, under the very peculiar circumstances of the case, to go a step further and say that I think it will be a public calamity if this great subject should fall into the lines of Party conflict. I feel sure that the question can only be dealt with by a Government, and I desire especially on grounds of public policy that it should be dealt with by the present Government. If, therefore, they bring in a proposal after settling the whole question of the future government of Ireland my desire will be, reserving, of course, necessary freedom, to treat it in the same spirit in which I have endeavoured to proceed in respect to Afghanistan and with respect to the Balkan Peninsula.”

To this statesmanlike offer Mr Balfour immediately replied:

“I have had as yet no opportunity of showing your letter to Lord Salisbury or of consulting him as to its contents, but I am sure he will receive without any surprise the statement of your earnest hope that the Irish Question should not fall into the lines of Party conflict. If the ingenuity of any Ministry is sufficient to devise some adequate and lasting remedy for the chronic ills of Ireland, I am certain it will be the wish of the leaders of the Opposition, to whatever side they may belong, to treat the question as a national and not as a Party one.”

And not less clear or emphatic were the views of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, spoken on 23rd December 1885, as to the feasibility of settling the Irish problem by Consent:

“On one point I may state my views with tolerable clearness. In my opinion the best plan of dealing with the Irish Question would be for the leaders of the two great parties to confer together for the purpose of ascertaining whether some modus vivendi could not be arrived at by which the matter would be raised out of the area of party strife.”

It will thus be seen that at a very early stage indeed of the discussions on Home Rule, distinguished statesmen were agreed that the ideal way of settling the Irish Question was by an arrangement or understanding between the two great British parties - otherwise by those methods of Conference, Conciliation and Consent which Mr William O’Brien and Lord Dunraven were so violently and irrationally assailed by Mr Dillon and his supporters for advocating. The great land pact was arranged by those methods of common agreement between all parties in Parliament - it could never have been reached otherwise. And, as these pages will conclusively show, the “factionism” of Mr O’Brien and those associated with him consisted in pressing a settlement by Conference methods consistently on the notice of the leaders of all parties. But Mr Wyndham was treated by the Dillonite section as “a prisoner in a condemned cell” - to use their own elegant metaphor - because he showed a disposition to secure a settlement of the Irish difficulty on a non-party basis. He was ruthlessly exiled from office by methods which confer no credit on their authors, and the Unionist Party retired at the close of the year 1905 with nothing accomplished on the Home Rule issue.

When the Liberals came back to power with an irresistible majority Ireland rang from end to end with glad promises of a great, a glorious and a golden future. The Liberals had the reins of government in their hands, and the tears were going to be wiped from the face of dark Rosaleen. Never again was she to know the bitterness of sorrow or that hope of freedom so long deferred which maketh the heart sick. Mr T.P. O’Connor wrote to his American news agency that Home Rule was coming at a “not far distant date.” It was a fair hope, but the men who gambled on it did not take the House of Lords sufficiently into their calculations. And they forgot also that Home Rule was not a concrete and definite issue before the country at the General Election. The Liberal Party in 1906 had no Home Rule mandate. Its leaders were avowedly in favour of what was known as “the step-by-step” programme. This policy was less than Lord Dunraven’s scheme of Devolution, but because it was the Liberal plan it came in for no stern denunciations from either Mr Dillon or Mr T.P. O’Connor. Even so staunch a Home Ruler as Mr John Morley insisted that Mr Redmond’s Home Rule Amendment to the Address should contain this important addendum: “subject to the supreme authority of the Imperial Parliament.” The men who shouted in Ireland: “No compromise,” who were clamant in their demand that there” should be no hauling down of the flag,” and who asked the country to go “back to the old methods” (though they made it clear they were not going to lead them if they did), showed no disinclination to have their own private negotiations with the Liberal leaders on a much narrower programme.

Mr T. P. O’Connor, in his Life of Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman, M.P., tells us exactly what happened, in the following words: -

“The Irish Nationalists had already become restive, for, while not openly repudiating Home Rule as an ultimate solution, several of the friends and adherents of Lord Rosebery among the leaders of the Liberal Party had proclaimed that they would not only not support, but would resist any attempt to introduce a Home Rule measure in a Parliament that was about to be elected. It was under these circumstances that I had an interview of any length with Campbell-Bannerman for the last time. He invited a friend and me to breakfast with him. ... This exchange of views was brief, for there was complete agreement as to both policy and tactics. ... It was shortly after this that he made his historic speech in Stirling. That was the speech in which he laid down the policy that while Ireland might not expect to get at once a measure of complete Home Rule, any measure brought in should be consistent with and leading up to a larger policy. Such a declaration was all that the Irish Nationalist Party could have expected at that moment and it enabled them to give their full support at the elections to the Liberal Party.”

This is a very notable statement, because it shows that the Nationalists, who poured out their vials of vituperation upon Lord Dunraven and the Irish Reform Association, were now eager to accept an infinitely lesser instalment of Home Rule from their own Liberal friends. And it also demonstrates that for a very meagre modicum of the Irish birth-right they were willing to sacrifice the position of Parliamentary independence, which was one of the greatest assets of the Party, and to enter into a formal alliance with the Liberals on a mere contingent declaration that “any measure brought in” should be “consistent with and leading up to a larger policy.” Note, there was no guarantee, no positive statement, that a measure would be brought in, yet Mr T. P. O’Connor tells us that this declaration was “all that the Irish Nationalist Party could have expected,” and that it enabled them “to give their full support at the elections to the Liberal Party.” I wonder what Parnell, had he been alive, would have thought of this offer of the Liberals and whether he would in return for it make such an easy surrender of a nation’s claims. And I wonder also whether a paltrier bargain was ever made in the whole history of political alliances. It does not require any special gift of vision to divine who was “the friend” who went with Mr O’Connor to Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman’s breakfast-party and who was in “complete agreement as to both policy and tactics.” They were good Liberals both of them, and for my own part I would find no fault with them for this, if only they had been better Nationalists.

Mr Redmond publicly ratified the new policy - or rather, treaty, as it now practically was - of Home Rule by instalments in a speech at Motherwell, in which he announced his readiness to accept any concession “which would shorten and smoothen the road to Home Rule.” But it is significant that although Mr Dillon was in complete agreement with the Liberals “as to both policy and tactics,” yet he devoted, with a rather supercilious levity, his speeches in Ireland to a demand for “Boer Home Rule as a minimum.” This was the way in which the country was scandalously hoodwinked as to the real relations which existed between the Liberals and Nationalists.

Mr O’Brien had at this time gone abroad and left the stage completely to Mr Dillon and his friends, having, however, made it clear that he was in favour of the Council Bill and suggested certain improvements, which the Government agreed to. His temporary withdrawal from the scene was dictated solely by the desire to give the utmost freedom of action to the Irish Party, seeing that they were acting in conformity with the best national interests in the special circumstances of the moment. He was also aware that Mr Birrell, who had now accepted office as Chief Secretary, was particularly acceptable to the Nationalist leaders and that they were in constant communication with him on details of the Bill, the safety of which seemed to be assured. Indeed, when it was introduced into Parliament, Mr Redmond spoke in appreciation of it, reserved in statement, no doubt, as befitting a leader who had yet to see the measure in print, but there is not a shadow of doubt that Messrs Redmond, Dillon and O’Connor were practically pledged to the support of the principle of the Bill before ever it was submitted to Parliament.

When, however, they summoned a National Convention to consider the Bill, to which they were committed by every principle of honour which could bind self-respecting men, to the amazement of everybody not behind the scenes, the very men who had crossed over from Westminster to recommend the acceptance of the measure were the first to move its rejection. A more unworthy and degrading performance it is not possible to imagine. It was an arrant piece of cowardice on the part of “the leaders,” who failed to lead and who shamefully broke faith with Mr Birrell and their Liberal allies. True, the Irish Council Bill was not a very great or strikingly generous measure. It had serious defects, but these might be remedied in Committee, and it had this merit, at least, that it did carry out the Liberal promise of being “consistent with and leading up to a larger policy.” Its purpose, broadly stated, was to consolidate Irish administration under the control of an Irish Council, which would be elected on the popular franchise. It contained no provision for a Statutory Legislative body. It was to confine itself to the purely administrative side of Government. The various Irish administrative departments were to be regrouped, with a Minister (to be called Chairman) at the head of each, who would be responsible to the elected representatives of the people. The Council was to be provided with the full Imperial costs (the dearest in the world) of the departments they were to administer, and they were to receive in addition an additional yearly subsidy of £600,000 to spend, with any savings they might effect on the administrative side on the development of Irish resources. Finally, this limited incursion into the field of administrative self-government was to last only for five years. Appeals to ignorant prejudice were long made by misquoting the title of the Irish Council Bill as “The Irish Councils Bill” - quite falsely, for one of its main recommendations was that the Bill created one national assembly for all Ireland, including the Six Counties which the Party subsequently ceded to Carson. Do not these proposals justify the comment of Mr O’Brien on them? - ”If the experiment had been proved to work with the harmony of classes and the broad-mindedness of patriotism, of which the Land Conference had set the example, the end of the quinquennial period would have found all Ireland and all England ready with a heart and a half for ‘the larger policy.’ There would even have been advantages which no thoughtful Irish Nationalist will ignore, in accustoming our people to habits of self-government by a probationary period of smaller powers and of substantial premiums upon self-restraint.”

Unfortunately, in addition to having no legislative functions, Mr Birrell’s Bill contained one other proposal which damned it from the outset with a very powerful body of Irish thought and influence - it proposed to transfer the control of education to a Committee preponderatingly composed of laymen. When dropping the Bill later Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman declared: “We took what steps we could to ascertain Irish feelings and we had good reason to believe that the Bill would receive the most favourable reception.” One would like to know how far the leaders of the Irish Party who were taken into the confidence of the Government regarding the provisions of the Bill concurred in this clause. To anyone acquainted with clerical feeling in Ireland, whether Catholic or Protestant, it should be known that such a proposal would be utterly inadmissible. But apparently the Government were not warned, although it is a matter of history that the Irish Party entertained Mr Birrell to a banquet in London the night before they went over to Ireland for the National Convention, and it is equally well known, on the admissions of Mr Redmond, Mr O’Connor and others, that they crossed with the express determination to support the Irish Council Bill and in the full expectation that they would carry it.

But they had not reckoned on Mr Devlin and on the younger priests, who had now begun to assert themselves vigorously in politics. Mr Devlin, in addition to being Secretary of the United Irish League, had also obtained a position of dominating control in the Ancient Order of Hibernians (Board of Erin section), a secret and sectarian organisation of which I will have much to say anon. For some inscrutable reason Mr Devlin set himself at the head of his delegates to intrigue with the young and ardent priesthood against the Bill. Mr Redmond, Mr T.P. O’Connor and their friends got to hear of the tempest that was brewing when they reached Dublin. Mr Dillon, unfortunately, was suffering from a grievous domestic bereavement at the time, and was naturally unable to attend the Convention. The others, instead of standing to their guns like men and courageously facing the opposition which unexpectedly confronted them, and which was largely founded on misunderstandings, basely ran away from all their honourable obligations - from what they owed in good faith to the Liberal Party, as a duty to their country, and as a matter of self-respect to their own good name - and instead of standing by the Bill, defending it and explaining whatever was not quite clear in its proposals, forestalled all criticism by putting up Mr Redmond to move its rejection. A more humiliating attitude, a more callous betrayal, a more sorry performance the whole history of political baseness and political ineptitude cannot produce. The feeling that swept through Ireland on the morrow of this Convention was one of disgust and shame, yet the people were so firmly shackled in the bonds of the Party that they still sullenly submitted to their chains. And the worst of this bitter business is that the shameful thing need never have occurred. If Mr Redmond had boldly advocated the adoption of the measure instead of moving its rejection in a state of cowardly panic, there is incontestable evidence he would have carried the overwhelming majority of the Convention with him.

The truth is that the members of his Party had no love for the Bill. Sensible of their own imperfections, as many of them were, and well aware that, whilst considered good enough by their constituents for service at Westminster, it was quite possible they would not come up to the standard which national duty at home would set up, they were naturally not very enthusiastic about any measure which would threaten their vested interests. It may appear an extraordinary statement to make to those who do not know their Ireland very well that the members of the Party were not the best that could be got, the best that would be got, under other conditions to serve in a representative capacity. But it is nevertheless true that the conditions of service at Westminster were not such as to tempt or induce the best men to leave their professions or their interests for seven or eight months of the year, whereas it was and is to be hoped that when the time comes the cream of Irish intellect, ability and character will seek the honourable duty of building up Irish destinies in Ireland. In justice to those who did serve at Westminster let it be, however, said that it invariably entailed loss and sacrifice even to the very least of them, and to very many, indeed, it meant ruined careers and broken lives.

This apart. The Irish Council Bill was lost because of bad leadership and bad faith, and the Irish Party continued to travel stumblingly along its pathway of disaster and disgrace.